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The Why of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:7-12)

September 15, 2019 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Proverbial Faith (Proverbs)

Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 9:7–9:12

 

I. Wisdom “Jeopardy!”

 

Let's play a quick round of “Jeopardy!” Remember, your answer must be in the form of a question. Ready? (raise your hand) Here we go... The category is “Wisdom”... for $500...

 

This is a colloquial slang term referring to knowledge not obtained through higher learning or formal education but instead by practical life experience. In general, it involves using common sense to stay savvy and safe in real-life — or "street" — situations”.

 

What is “street smarts”. Correct! I found that blurb online, and thought it was a good way to talk about an aspect of wisdom in our modern world. Another online article described it this way...

 

Street smarts is common sense, intuition, and experience all rolled into one.”

 

Think about it: in our culture, we talk far more about getting an education than we do getting wisdom. But nevertheless, we respect certain kinds of wisdom (even when we don't use the word). We admire people with 'business savvy'. We appreciate those who have 'people skills'. We appreciate those who dispense 'grandmotherly advice' or exemplify 'old-fashioned' know-how.

 

As we heard in our first lesson, Proverbs is all about wisdom. As one commentator explains it:

 

Wisdom in the book of Proverbs is very much concerned with the art of good living; the techniques of the well-lived life.” (Marvin E. Tate)

 

I feel confident that everyone in this room, in their final moments on this planet, wants to be able to look back and know they experienced that very thing: a well-lived life. If that's your desire, then it's important you hear this statement: a rightly-lived life is only possible when we are right with the One who gave us life.

 

Let's unpack that phrase by turning together to Proverbs 9.

 

 

II. The Passage: "The Beginning of Wisdom " (9:7-12)

 

Now you may be wondering why we're jumping to chapter 9 of Proverbs, after having just started our study of the book last week. Well, unlike almost every other book in the Bible (and as we talked about last time), Proverbs is a “collection of collections”; a collection of sayings that doesn't always have a discernible structure, arrangement, or flow. This makes a good portion of the book hard to teach through if you are simply going verse by verse.

 

Keeping the broader structure of the book in mind, a better approach may be to look at the book through a topical or thematic lens. If we do that, one theme stands out above all the others. We see that theme in 9:10. In that verse, we are instructed in light of...

1. Wisdom and the Lord of Wisdom (v. 10)

 

Look with me at verse 10 and consider if something sounds familiar about this verse...

 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

 

What should sound familiar about that verse is the opening phrase. It sounds a lot like verse 7 of chapter 1, one of the verses we talked about last week. In 1:7 we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge...” Well, which is it? Wisdom... or knowledge?

 

Well, you may also remember from last time that the opening verses of the book, like the book itself, contain a whole constellation of “wisdom”-related words; words like instruction, insight, prudence, discretion, understanding, guidance, and... knowledge. Just as we see in the two halves of 9:10, in Proverbs, the terms “wisdom” and “knowledge” are often used together; and they can often be used interchangeably.

 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom... The fear of the Lord is the the beginning of knowledge.

 

Now, what's interesting is to consider these verses (1:7 and 9:10) in light of the larger structure of the book. You may recall that in the last lesson I mentioned how the first third of Proverbs is an extended encouragement from King Solomon to his son. You may also remember my summary for the focus of this section was an encouragement to prize and pursue wisdom. Why does any of this matter? Because that first section starts in chapter 1 and ends in chapter 9. And interestingly, as we've seen, in both chapters 1 and 9 we find a verse about the fear of Yahweh being the beginning of knowledge or wisdom.

 

In addition to the words themselves, these 'bookends' point us to the critical importance of this concept. Last time we talked about how the fear of God is a kind of anchor when it comes to understanding wisdom. What is the fear of God? Well, biblical fear is being overwhelmed with God as God, in light of all his attributes. Thus, I think we could say that what Solomon is saying here is this: “I want you prize and pursue wisdom. But please know, wisdom is only accessible through the doorway of godly awe and reverence.”

 

But Proverbs 9:10, in its context, also challenges us to think about...

 

 

2. Wisdom and the Love of Wisdom (vs. 7-9)

 

So... how does the context of 9:10 help us understand what Solomon means when he declares that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom”? Well look at the verses preceding v. 10...

 

[v.7] Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. [8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. [9] Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

 

Now notice the parallels in those verses: in verse 7 the “scoffer” is paired with... “a wicked man”, and in verse 9 “a wise man” is paired with “a righteous man”. Those pairings actually help us make sense of the relationship between both halves of Proverbs 1:7...

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 

Did you see how those who fear God are contrasted here with “fools”? To put it another way, those who do not fear God are living foolishly. This idea can be found in other places in Proverbs. Listen to how this is expressed in chapter 15:

 

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof [that person] will dwell among the wise. [32] Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. [33] The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (15:31–33)

 

Please don't miss what all these verses are saying: to fear God is to be humbled before him; and it's only when you are truly humbled that you become truly hungry for wisdom. Why exactly is this the case? Because when we are not looking to God in this way, we will be looking to ourselves instead. We find this same idea in Proverbs 3:7...

 

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

 

Notice in that verse how the fear of Yahweh is not only antithetical to me-centered wisdom, but also to the evil that always results from me-centered wisdom. These ideas are found throughout the book:

 

The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. [8:13] ...Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. [23:17]

 

Why is the fear of God a prerequisite for true wisdom? Because when we do not fear God, pride and worldliness rule. Those are the only two options. According to 3:5, you either “trust in Yahweh with all your heart” or you “lean on your own understanding”. While worldly wisdom accommodates me-centeredness and is informed by such things, true wisdom points to a very, very different path. Thus the wisdom in Proverbs is not simply 10th century BC 'street smarts' or an ancient self-help guide to successful living. It is a guide to honoring God with your whole life.

 

But if we go back to 9:10, we find something else in the context. We read in vs. 11, 12 about...

 

 

3. Wisdom and the Life of Wisdom (vs. 11, 12)

 

Listen to how Solomon describes the stakes involved when it comes to wisdom. Verse 11...

 

For by me [i.e., Wisdom (v. 4)] your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. [12] If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

 

Now what exactly does that mean? Well, I think what Solomon is emphasizing here is, again, a truth we find emphasized throughout the Proverbs. For example: The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. [10:27] ...The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. [14:27] ...The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm. [19:23] ...The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. [22:4]

 

Are these divine promises of health and wealth? No. Proverbs are not promises. They are general observations about the blessings that come from following God's design for human life.

God will take care of His people. Proverbs are not promises. But they do remind us of God's promises to his people, promises that are bigger and better than any earthly measures of temporary success. But these proverbs also warn us about the consequences of foolish living (think: wrong choices, with the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time... foolish!). As Solomon is telling his son (and God is telling us) in 9:11, 12, wisdom has a reward for those who live in its light. But foolishness, though it feels self-fulfilling, is actually self-destructive.

 

 

III. Wisdom-Hungry, But God-Satisfied

 

Brothers and sisters, friends, what is God showing us this morning? I believe He wants us to grasp the very thing Solomon desperately wanted his son to grasp. Solomon wanted his son to understand that a life in pursuit of wisdom is ultimately meaningless apart from the pursuit of God. We cannot and should not ever disconnect wisdom from the God of wisdom.

 

But all of us can be tempted to do that very thing. There is a part of us that cares more about the practical than the personal when it comes to God and his wisdom. We can care more about life-strategies than eternal life, more about techniques than God's presence, and more about formulas for success than faith in God's love and power.

 

You see, there is a very real temptation to see wisdom as a tool to promote your own glory instead of God's. “He's so wise.” “She's so wise.” “He always knows what to do.” “She's seems to have it all figured out.” “What's the secret to your success?” But even though this pride is antithetical to fearing God, it still involves fear: fear of disapproval... fear of loss... fear of settling fear of transparency... fear of feeling helpless... fear of missing out.

 

Brothers and sisters, our churches are filled with people seeking help for this or that problem, seeking advice in light of this or that dilemma; people who are seeking some kind of wisdom, but not seeking Christ. But what does God tell us he'll do for any who trust him?

 

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteous-ness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:30–31)

 

If you desire wisdom, ask yourself why. We should want wisdom... but God even more. To fear God is to be humbled before him; and it's only when you are truly humbled that you become truly hungry for wisdom. I also stated at the outset a rightly-lived life is only possible when we are right with the One who gave us life. There is only one way foolish people like us, who are so often wise in our own eyes, there's only one way we can be right with God: by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. While fearing God can mean terror for the sinner, it's much bigger than that. Listen to how Pastor Tim Keller points us to grace...

 

To our surprise, the fear of the Lord increases the more grace and forgiveness are experienced (Psalms 42:2, 3; 130:4). But this is key to Proverbs. All the advice for living assumes a holy God who nonetheless redeems by grace. A God who accepts only the most moral people will inspire slavish fear of punishment. A God who simply accepts everyone might evoke warm affection. Only a belief that we are lost but freely saved sinners creates a joyful yet awe-filled assurance of his saving love.

 

Only when Christ becomes to us wisdom from God can we truly walk in wisdom. Let's walk in that. Wisdom-hungry... but God-satisfied. May God always be the why of your wisdom. Let's pray.

 

More in Proverbial Faith (Proverbs)

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